TIFF 2017: Downsizing Review

Special Presentations/ Our Digital Future

The world faces a lot of global issues today. Overpopulation has led to crowded cities, pollution, climate change, and struggling economies. But what if we were all just a little smaller? Or even better, what if we were all a lot smaller? Like, action figure size. A dollhouse would suddenly be a mansion. A garbage can would suffice as an entire landfill. This is the solution presented by Norwegian scientists in Downsizing, Alexander Payne’s high concept social satire that’s poignant and hilarious at the best of times, and just befuddling at others. 

Matt Damon plays Paul, the everyman who decides to undergo the procedure with his wife as they struggle to buy a home. When his wife backs out at the last minute, he finds himself small and single in Leisureland, a community where small people, newly rich from downsizing their entire lives, can live a life of total leisure. 

Downsizing deals with issues both big and small. On the one hand, this societal shift is an apparent attempt to save the human race, but it really all comes down to personal life choices. It’s a nicely distilled case of macrocosm versus microcosm. The subject matter gets heavy at times, with very heady themes, but it’s also filled with great visual gags and puns. If you get caught up thinking about the logistics of such a shift, then you’re missing the point. 


It doesn’t start feeling like Alexander Payne film until Paul begins to settle into his new, small life, and the film becomes more about someone adjusting to major life changes. Even then, Paul is a much more sympathetic protagonist than we’re used to seeing in Payne’s films. The concept requires far more visual effects than the director has ever had to tackle before, which is perhaps why he opted to make the minimalist Nebraska right before. However once in Leisureland, most things are to scale and Payne can concentrate on what he does best: relationships and adjustment. 

In a stacked cast that includes Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis and several cameos, it’s Hong Chau as a Vietnamese amputee downsized in prison who ends up stealing the show. Her blunt, no nonsense character gets the biggest laughs while also nailing the most emotional scenes. The wacky concept should get butts in the seats, but once that fades into the background, it’s Hong Chau who will keep them there.